Neville Staple is an artist who does not need introduction – a legend, an original Rude Boy and a musician that soudtracked the last four decades for millions of people around the world. His work with The Specials, Fun Boy Three and Special Beat puts him on the front-lines of 2 tone ska movement. In short, ladies and gentlemen, rude boys and girls – we had a pleasure to speak to Mr Staple about his music, 40th anniversary of ska, charity work and his degree.
We would like to start this interview by congratulating you. On July 10th you were awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Arden University in recognition of your musical career and involvement in the community. Well done Doctor! How do you feel?
Neville Staple: Thank you so much. I feel great actually. I am a rude boy who came up from the street, who found opportunities and ran with them, who realised what talents I could bring to the table and brought them. Its all I had, so I used them. I have had over 40 amazing years in entertainment and music, so to be honoured by a very new and classy university like Arden, is brilliant. With all the awards I have gained over the years with albums, singles and other production work, this is extra special, because it is very personal to me and guys like me, don’t get such things easily, without really stepping up. Yeah, I am very proud.
It’s the 40th anniversary of The Specials this year. Did you ever imagine when you joined the band that four decades later you will be still making music and touring?
Neville Staple: Before the Specials I was an entertaining, I won dance competitions, performed with the Ray King Soul Band and toasted lyrics with Messenger and Jah Baddis Sound Systems, so I was always going to have a life in music, I reckon. But I probably wouldn’t have believed I’d still be making music, producing albums and soundtracks, or touring the world, all these years later. It’s great and keeps me young!
2Tone Ska movement are credited with defusing racial tensions in Thatcher- era Britain by mixing reggae and punk. Music journalists rightly point out that even the chequered patterns used by the movements (black and white squares) symbolized the unity felt by musicians at that time. It’s hard not to draw parallels between that period and “hostile environment” now. Do you think music can again heal the divided society in the times of Brexit?
Neville Staple: One of my recent songs, “Put Away Your Knives” has led to a lot of people coming forward and looking at more solutions to knife crime. People contact my wife Sugary and me about the issues they face, or the projects they want to set up and lots of other stuff. So, if that is the power of just one song, then yes, I do believe that we can always make a difference, through music. “Politician Man”, “The Border” and “Road Block” on recent albums, also caused a lot of dialogue with fans, who recognised issues from their own lives, or communities or from the news. Even “Way of Life” was written about our friends who sat in a bar, having a drink, when the Borough Market and London Bridge ‘terror attacks’ took place. That song is about their night of dread and the conversations that took place afterwards, among families and friends. I still prefer to address society through my music.
Your friends in The Specials took on the current politics and Windrush scandal in a song “Vote for me” with bitter words about tearing families apart. You also seem to tackle that issue. In a video to your single “Return of Judge Roughneck” you and the band are seen in the dock for “serious crimes”. You also re-recorded one of your old hits “Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum” and it sounds like it was written yesterday. Do you see yourself as a political commentator or rather as an artist holding the mirror to society?
Neville Staple: Mostly an artist holding a mirror to society, but perhaps a little bit of both. Judge Roughneck definitely knows a lot about what is wrong in society and especially about those who exploit or hurt others. So, he condemns them all (could be politicians, bankers or violent attackers), but because his hands are tied (or maybe he colludes), the guilty do not get properly punished, they get probation! So, they are still free to do what they do. That is definitely a mirror of the society that I see every day.
You work very closely with your wife and manager Christine Sugary Staple. She supports you on tour and you appeared with her on the “Rude Rebels” album. Many people would fear being business partners with their significant others. You seem to enjoy it. What’s your secret?
Neville Staple: Being soul mates is the secret. She is my right arm. She has been there through good and bad, happy and sad. She is the heart, strength and support to all what I do, and I try to be the same to her, and she manages the band and me. We worked on Rude Rebels together and she is so talented in the studio, that is easy to work with her, and she did a lot of work on my other recent albums and singles. We also have great fun on the road. She is an original rude girl so knows how to deal with an original rude boy (laughs) Perfect match!
All though your career, you had a chance to work and perform alongside the biggest names in the industry: The Clash, David Byrne, The Go-Gos and even Bananarama. If we can ask you to name an artist you never got a chance to meet or collaborate with. Who is “the one that got away”?
Neville Staple: Following Amy Winehouse’s appearance beside me on stage, which was brilliant, we then looked at plans to do some recordings. I was gutted that I never had the chance to do it. But out of today’s current artists, I still love to mix up different genres and the rough with the smooth, so I would like to meet and work with Bastille, to do a sweet and cool, driving track, with a rude spin; or definitely with Stormzy, to do something edgy and catchy, deep and inspiring. We could let people see that elders and young people can unite and create great things together. A show of unity and respect, with an important message. Yeah, good things!
After leaving The Specials, you reinvented yourself as a solo artist. Recently, you have been touring successfully with your own assemble, The Neville Staple Band. Can you please introduce your band members to us? Who’s joining you on stage?
Neville Staple: To be honest, I have never not had a solo career of some kind, in over 40 years. And the Neville Staple Band actually celebrates its 15-year anniversary this year. I put some of my own band tours on hold, when I did the most recent 2009–2012 reunion with the Specials (there have been at least 3 reunions with recorded albums and tours over the years), but I was still doing NSB shows in-between the Specials tours too. I have also always done DJ shows too, since my sounds system days. And before the Neville Staple Band 15 years ago, I had Neville Staple and The Hitmen, and Special Beat, Today’s Specials, plus the Legends of 2Tone Band, that I fronted and toured all over with. I have never not had a solo career or other collaborations going on.
My current band has Sugary up front with me on vocals, doing some lead and some backing; Joe Atkinson on both keys and piano, Sledge Armstrong on bass, Matty Band on drums, Billy Shinbone on guitar, Spencer Hague on trombone and Drew Stansall on Saxophone. These guys are the best. True and loyal friends too.
Your newest single “Put Away Your Knives” could easily be classified as a protest song about the epidemic of knife crimes sweeping through urban areas such as London, Birmingham or Sheffield. The song is dedicated to your grandson, Fidel Glasgow who tragically lost his life in 2018. The song will collect funding for Victim Support. Can you tell us more this track?
Neville Staple: It is a protest song. It is a song to say enough now. Enough! Someone has to say it like it is. Stop running around with knives, stop killing each other. Think of your future. One day you could become a dad yourself. Who the hell are your kids going to look up to? You there? You with the big knife hidden in your clothes? I don’t think so! Or you over there, yeah you – the guy who just shot a 17-year-old kid, because the kid upset the puppet master from your endz! It has gone too far! Everyone needs to step on it. My wife Sugary says, every parent, every school, every auntie, uncle, grandparent, politician, neighbour and local organisations, need to step up and get involved. If everyone took a stand and said ENOUGH NOW, ENOUGH, and did their bit to make a change, no matter how small, in their own community or family, we could win this. Don’t just wait for it to happen to you or near you. Stamp it out before it does. People are left devastated, with too many parents and grandparents are burying their young families. We have to make a stand now.
“Put Away Your Knives” and your other recent single “Working Hard Everyday” were mixed and engineered by Tom Lowry at Planet Studios in Coventry. Tom has worked with, from the legendary Kumar Sanu, to Spectrum and the Specials. How do you remember working with him? It must have felt like visiting an old friend.
Neville Staple: Tom and I have been great friends for so long. We worked together from when we first set up studio space. I had a record label of my own and I used to produce artists at Tom’s studio back in the late 80’s onwards. It was there that we produced Johnny Zee, Stereo Nation (aka Tarzam Singh) and Lieutenant Pidgeon. We have never stopped working together and being friends. I even flew Tom over to the States in the 1990’s, when I was over there recording and producing, to help me with some of my engineering and production work. Even now, with both Tom and Sugary in the studio with me, it`s like a night out with great friends, where you all support each other and just get on really well. He’s like family to me.
You are shortly due to hit the road that will take you all over the UK. What can we expect from your newest shows?
Neville Staple: I will be performing my hit songs with the Specials and classics from my career.
I always have a party with the fans. They love to sing along, jump, skank and stomp with us. No two shows are the same and they are not like being sat at home with an MP3 on. What’s the point of that? We prefer to make each show energetic and individual to match the audience on the night. We could be performing a show with thousands, or a smaller venue with hundreds, but will still give them the best night ever. Come and see!
The last questions at Indieterria are always a bit of fun. You are the original Rude Boy and we have to ask – if you could do one naughty thing and never get caught, what would it be?
Neville Staple: I would steal back all the rights to my own song writing that I unwittingly signed away to others many years ago, or I would hack the tax system and give every hard-working individual, a 10- year full tax rebate!! (laughs)
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We would like to thank to Mr Staple for his time and to Shauna McLarnon of Shameless Promotion PR for making arrangements.